Nothing frustrates community college students more than learning that after four years of high school curriculum, they still need at least one year of remedial English or mathematics courses at the community college. Community college faculty are equally frustrated by the numbers of students who begin remedial course sequences and who drop out or fail, thereby stalling dreams and plans for degrees and careers.
That’s why the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, which represents all faculty at all community colleges, endorses the Common Core State Standards for students in K-12. The faculty strongly believe that the new standards will help more students be prepared not only for university and college work, but for whatever life path a 12th-grader chooses to pursue after high school.
The Common Core math and English standards place more emphasis on integration and application of skills learned in one class to another class in a different subject. This type of thinking is critical to a student’s success in community college course work, whether preparing for transfer to a university or a technical program designed to take a student directly to a job.
The new standards also challenge students to think deeply about why an answer is correct and how to write a convincing argument, plus “soft skills” that employers are seeking: the ability to persevere when problem-solving, to reason abstractly, be precise, value evidence, demonstrate independence and strategically select tools.
Community college faculty want incoming students to know the subject area content within the standards because those skills and knowledge will carry a student through many courses and college experiences across the campus. Approximately 70 percent of community college students need at least one remedial course, and with the 18-to-24-year-old group, the largest segment of our student population, the colleges have a range of success measures to address the needs of these students.
However, the best solution for students, their families and California is for the students to come to community colleges (or universities, work, military service, etc.) more prepared with a solid foundation in basic skills.
The faculty believe that the Common Core standards provide that foundation. We are especially interested in seeing more K-12 students meet the standards and successfully complete their senior year of high school with a fourth year of math and senior-level English.
To all the graduating seniors in the high school class of 2014, you are welcome at your local community college. And to all high school freshmen, sophomores and juniors, take more-challenging English and mathematics courses no matter what you plan to do after high school. Faculty at community colleges want you to be successful in our classes and subsequent jobs, and we know that good foundational skills such as those developed by meeting the Common Core standards will make a positive difference.
Beth Smith is president of the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges.